I'm an atheist, but I'm gastronomically jewish. Ashkenazi jewish.
There's two kinds of jews. Well, there's probably twenty million types of jews, but one of the ways to categorise jews is, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Ashkenazis originate from Russia, Poland, and that sort of area; Sephardis come from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.
My sister, an Ashkenazi, married a Sephardi.
That's not a problem, of course. But there is a slight difference in culture and customs. This is most evident to me at passover. There may be differences in synagogue services, but since I never go to synagogue (except for weddings and suchlike), I wouldn't know.
The big difference at passover, is rice. Ashkenazis don't eat rice at passover, Sephardis do. And I've never really understood why this is.
Over the passover period (eight days, unless you're in Israel when it's seven days, and I've heard an explanation for that which doesn't make sense, but who ever said that religion has to make sense, and also outside Israel there's two Seder nights) you're not allowed to eat leavened bread. Leavened means that it's risen, usually because of yeast making carbon dioxide inside the bread, or else by using sodium bicarbonate, so the bread becomes fluffy. Leavened bread means, in practice, bread like you'd buy at a baker (or bread rolls, etc). Apparently, when the jews left Egypt in a hurry, there wasn't time for the dough to rise. So for eight days, we eat matzo, although if you're like me, you eat matzo all year round, because I like matzo, it's crunchy, which I like, unlike bread, which is soft.
There's five grains covered by this ban. Wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. You'll have noticed that rice isn't in this list.
So when I go to Seder at my wife's brother's house, they're Ashkenazi, so the main meal is chicken soup (of course), chopped liver (of course), roast chicken, roast potatoes, runner beans, maybe brussels, and we all get greatly stuffed and the service after the meal is heavily curtailed.
But when I go to Seder at my sister's house, they're Sephardi, so the main meal is chicken soup (of course), chopped liver (of course), roast chicken, roast potatoes, roast vegetables, curry things I don't know the name of, lamb things I don't remember the name of, stuffed vegetables I don't remember the name of ... and rice. A lot of rice. And we all get greatly stuffed and the service after the meal is heavily curtailed.
Well, some very good news has recently been announced.
Rice is now kosher for pesach.
So this year, at last I'll be able to eat the rice at my sister's seder!
Just like I always have.
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